THE FOOT WHISPERER

MOVIE STARS, SPORTS STARS AND ROCK STARS HAVE WALKED IN THEM – EVEN THE ODD POPE. MORESCHI’S AT­TEN­TION TO QUAL­ITY AND DE­TAIL MAKES IT THE MICHE­LIN-STARRED RESTAU­RANT OF SHOEMAKERS.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - CONTENTS - STORY JOSEPHINE McKENNA

Moreschi of Vigevano may not be a house­hold name, but it counts many among the buy­ers of its su­perb loafers.

GianBeppe Moreschi is re­luc­tant to name the Hol­ly­wood stars, sheiks, world lead­ers and ath­letes who have put his sump­tu­ous shoes on their feet over the decades. But in a glass cab­i­net above his fac­tory in the north­ern Ital­ian town of Vigevano, the 83-year-old proudly dis­plays two pairs of red leather shoes: they are copies of the ones made as gifts for popes John Paul II and Bene­dict XVI. “What good for­tune,” Moreschi, a de­vout Catholic, says with a wry smile. Moreschi de­liv­ered Pope John Paul’s pair to him per­son­ally in Rome, while Pope Bene­dict made global head­lines in 2007 when he vis­ited Vigevano and col­lected 15,001 pairs of shoes: 15,000 do­nated by lo­cal busi­ness peo­ple to dis­trib­ute to the poor, and one sup­ple pair of loafers for him­self.

The com­pany coyly re­veals its shoes have also been worn by ac­tors Richard Bur­ton and Liam Nee­son, mu­sic leg­ends Michael Jack­son and Johnny Cash, and ath­letes in­clud­ing No­vak Djokovic and Michael Jor­dan. But most of its well-heeled clients pre­fer to re­main anony­mous. Or at least al­low their feet to do the talk­ing.

The footwear man­u­fac­turer was founded by Moreschi’s fa­ther, Mario, in 1946, when Vigevano had a thriv­ing leather in­dus­try. Many of its ri­vals have since dis­ap­peared as ris­ing costs and di­min­ish­ing re­turns took their toll and sent pro­duc­tion and jobs else­where. But Moreschi has flour­ished and the fam­ily’s range of shoes for men and women is now sold in 80 coun­tries, in­clud­ing in Aus­tralia at the lux­ury re­tail store, Har­rolds. “My fa­ther de­cided to pro­duce men’s shoes of the high­est qual­ity,” says GianBeppe, the com­pany chair­man. “When you buy a pair of Moreschi shoes there are 70 years of his­tory in­side them.”

From hum­ble beginnings Moreschi has grown into a global man­u­fac­turer that em­ploys 300 peo­ple – often three gen­er­a­tions from the same fam­ily – and pro­duces more than 250,000 pairs of shoes a year.

GianBeppe took over in 1957 when his fa­ther died sud­denly, and has con­tin­ued to ex­pand its vi­sion. Now his three sons, Mario, Ste­fano and Francesco, run the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions in­side a gleam­ing white head­quar­ters span­ning 65,000sqm. Sur­rounded by stun­ning park­land, the site in­cludes a huge fac­tory, of­fices, out­let store and a staff nurs­ery.

The global head­quar­ters sits on the out­skirts of a quaint town that once hosted Re­nais­sance artists Leonardo Da Vinci and Donato Bra­mante, but here the lat­est tech­nol­ogy is com­bined with the best of Italy’s ar­ti­sanal tra­di­tion. “Peo­ple are proud to wear our shoes be­cause they feel they are wear­ing a su­pe­rior prod­uct that is very com­fort­ably made with high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als that last longer than usual,” says Mario Moreschi, sales di­rec­tor and head of op­er­a­tions.

Fifty-four-year-old Mario, named after his grand­fa­ther, de­vel­oped a pas­sion for the busi­ness at a young age. “I was al­most born in the fac­tory,” he says. “I still re­mem­ber my first pair of Moreschi shoes, I think I was 12 years old. It was a hand­stitched beige moc­casin with a match­ing beige lizard­skin on the apron of the shoe.” These days the fa­ther of three has many more pairs at his fin­ger­tips. Asked to name a favourite style he points to the el­e­gant loafers on his feet and lifts one up in the air. “I re­ally love to wear these in a hand-painted ch­est­nut colour, which has a glazed fin­ish like a mir­ror,” he says. “I wear the same in navy blue, black and brown suede. My closet is full of the same style and for ev­ery colour I have three pairs of each. Maybe I am bor­ing. But these are my shoes, these are my icon.”

As Moreschi re­flects on his per­sonal pref­er­ences in­side a sparse of­fice, an army of male and fe­male work­ers dressed in crisp white coats are toil­ing along a vast pro­duc­tion line that snakes around the lu­mi­nous fac­tory be­low. Be­fore their daily shift ends they will have pro­duced 1500 pairs of shoes.

Sewing ma­chines are hum­ming along a com­put­erised pro­duc­tion line but tiny ham­mers can also be heard tap­ping in what seems like a throw­back to another era. Man­agers use bi­cy­cles to zip across spot­less con­crete floors from one depart­ment to another as com­put­ers spit out data for the ded­i­cated crafts­men and women as­sem­bling soles, up­pers, in­soles and heels.

“It is a qual­ity prod­uct made with the hands of work­ers who have tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and style,” says Adri­ano Roberto, the pro­duc­tion man­ager, who started his ca­reer as a ware­house as­sis­tant 34 years ago. His par­ents worked for Moreschi, so does his brother, and his daugh­ter is hop­ing to join the firm in the fu­ture.

“You need to have the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge about the prod­uct and how it is cre­ated,” he says. “To­day there is no one who makes shoes like we make them. It is beau­ti­ful to be part of this com­pany.”

Ev­ery­thing be­gins with the finest raw ma­te­ri­als and Moreschi’s enor­mous 300m-long leather vault is con­sid­ered to be “the show­piece” of the com­pany. Shelves are laden with skins from around the world in a ware­house that feels more like a wine cel­lar. On floor-to-ceil­ing shelves there is sup­ple calf’s leather from France, kan­ga­roo skin from Aus­tralia and goatskin from Nige­ria as well as croc­o­dile, os­trich, lizard and

python in an ar­ray of colours. Care­fully cat­a­logued, there are enough hides and leathers ly­ing here to sat­isfy a year’s pro­duc­tion.

Tem­per­a­tures in­side the vault are kept be­tween 16C and 18C and hu­mid­ity is kept at around 70 per cent dur­ing a mat­u­ra­tion pe­riod last­ing at least six months to en­sure the leather’s soft­ness and flex­i­bil­ity. Mario Moreschi says there’s no room for com­pro­mise.

“If Fer­rari or Bentley started to use low-qual­ity paint for the body of the car or other fab­rics in­stead of gen­uine leather in­te­ri­ors, it would kill the prod­uct and lose the con­fi­dence of the cus­tomers,” he says. “What is im­por­tant is to carry on pro­duc­ing the orig­i­nal Moreschi shoes that we have made in the past.”

In the mod­el­ling depart­ment across the cor­ri­dor, de­sign­ers and tech­ni­cians an­a­lyse shapes and pro­duce com­put­erised mod­els drawn from wooden forms that date back decades. Once the mod­els have been ap­proved, the leather is cut by hand or dig­i­tal laser cut­ters that use only the best of the hide.

As the aroma of leather wafts through the fac­tory, soles and up­pers area as­sem­bled on the pro­duc­tion line ac­cord­ing to pre­cise data. There is ex­tra­or­di­nary at­ten­tion to de­tail as each of these mod­ern-day cob­blers start to give the shoes shape as they move along con­veyor belts and carousels.

“You can’t in­vent things in two sec­onds,” says Ste­fano Moreschi, who runs the com­pany’s re­tail op­er­a­tions. “To make a pair of Moreschi shoes there are be­tween 250 and 350 man­ual steps.” There are dif­fer­ent types of man­u­fac­tur­ing for shoes, soft loafers and rub­ber-soled sneak­ers and some mod­els are made up of 15 pieces. The high­est-qual­ity shoes are as­sem­bled in a process called “Goodyear” in which the welt (the strip that runs along the edge of the out­sole) is sewn on to the in­sole and the up­per part of the shoe be­fore be­ing joined to the sole with dou­ble stitch­ing to re­in­force the shoe’s dura­bil­ity and strength with­out sac­ri­fic­ing any of its ele­gance.

Else­where in the fac­tory loafers are pro­duced from a type of “leather tube” that is softly shaped around the sole of the foot be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to an ar­ti­san who uses a nee­dle and thread to at­tach the top flap to the rest of the shoe by hand. Fifty-six-year-old Nat Par­illa takes his nee­dle and demon­strates how it’s done, in another mo­ment that seems straight out of the past. “It’s a beau­ti­ful tra­di­tion,” says Par­illa, who joined Moreschi as a teenager more than 40 years ago.

Moreschi also takes pride in hand-dye­ing its leather. Work­ing from a neu­tral base, ex­perts take a white cloth and grad­u­ally colour parts of the shoe or its en­tire sur­face in a del­i­cate process. Then the leather is “ironed” at a tem­per­a­ture of 130C to seal the colour be­fore the shoe is pol­ished sev­eral times in a process called “carameli­sa­tion”. “The hand-coloured shoes are def­i­nitely one of my favourites,” says Ste­fano. “You look at your shoes and you think, ‘Should I walk out­side or just wear them in­side?’ It is easy to ruin them.”

In an ex­clu­sive ar­range­ment with Tus­can wine pro­ducer Mar­quis Anti­nori, clients can even have their be­spoke calf­skin shoes coloured dark pur­ple with the residue of crushed grapes. A 2011 mag­num of Anti­nori’s Guado Al Tasso wine is in­cluded on de­liv­ery with an in­vi­ta­tion to visit the fam­ily’s Bol­gheri vine­yards.

Else­where on the pro­duc­tion line ex­perts are hand­paint­ing and pol­ish­ing the holes and fine edges of the shoes be­fore they go through rig­or­ous qual­ity con­trol and fi­nal pack­ag­ing. Clients who opt for made-tomea­sure can also de­sign their own shoes.

“We have cus­tomers who may seem fussy but some of them have in­cred­i­ble taste,” says Ste­fano. “They com­bine a cou­ple of things or make a re­quest and I see the shoes and I think ‘ I thought he was crazy but these are great’. We are like a restau­rant à la carte.”

Ste­fano Moreschi says the UK and Europe have tra­di­tion­ally been the com­pany’s strong­est markets but the brand is also pop­u­lar in Rus­sia, the Mid­dle East, Ja­pan and other parts of Asia. He sees plenty of po­ten­tial in the US and in Aus­tralia through Moreschi’s part­ner­ship with Har­rolds. “It’s a top store with pro­fes­sional peo­ple who un­der­stand and know the prod­uct and how to sell it,” says Moreschi. “Ev­ery sales­man in our stores has been trained in the fac­tory, they know how our shoes are made – it is a must or they can’t be on the sell­ing floor.”

John Poulakis, the founder of Har­rolds, has stocked Moreschi shoes in his Syd­ney, Mel­bourne and Gold Coast stores for eight years. He says his clients recog­nise the style and work­man­ship in­vested in ev­ery Moreschi shoe. “It’s a shoe that peo­ple ad­mire when they see it for the first time,” Poulakis says. “It is a com­fort­able shoe and the styling is im­pec­ca­ble at the right price.” Moreschi shoes sell for $650 to $900 in Aus­tralia and Poulakis says the brand has de­vel­oped a loyal fol­low­ing among clients aged 30 and over. “The re­fined Euro­pean styling is what ap­peals to our clien­tele,” he says.

As well as its part­ner­ships with stores such as Har­rolds, Moreschi has 40 of its own stores in Italy and around the world. Its flag­ship store is lo­cated in Pi­azza San Ba­bila in the heart of Mi­lan’s vi­brant fash­ion district. The three-storey build­ing has rich brown mar­ble floors, wood pan­elling and leather arm­chairs that give it the feel of an el­e­gant liv­ing room. Clas­sic styles, loafers and rub­ber-soled sneak­ers fill the shelves and sales as­sis­tants chat about cus­tomer loy­alty and their pas­sion for footwear.

“We don’t want just to sell a beau­ti­ful prod­uct but to share our pas­sion for the ar­ti­sans’ tra­di­tion,” says Da­vide Lu­paria, as­sis­tant store man­ager, who ad­mits he has 50 pairs of shoes in his closet at home. “When cus­tomers try the shoes they feel the dif­fer­ence and often buy two or three pairs. We some­times see clients with shoes that are still in the most beau­ti­ful con­di­tion after 12 years.”

Prices start at around €280 ($410) for deer­skin sneak­ers and rise to €2500 for a clas­sic model in black croc­o­dile skin. Those look­ing to in­dulge can spend up to €12,000 on a be­spoke loafer made of croc­o­dile skin in a colour of their choice and edged in sil­ver or gold.

Fash­ion is de­con­struct­ing what we wear so­cially and pro­fes­sion­ally in the 21st cen­tury. But as the Moreschi broth­ers look to their own chil­dren to take the busi­ness into a fourth gen­er­a­tion, they are adamant there will be no short­cuts or out­sourc­ing to threaten the qual­ity or crafts­man­ship of their prod­ucts. “We have be­lieved in ‘made in Italy’ since 1946 and at the end of the day it gives you a rep­u­ta­tion and a tra­di­tion. It’s about the her­itage of the brand,” says Mario. “To go in another di­rec­tion like mass pro­duc­tion of train­ers and run­ners is not for us. We have to give real qual­ity and real tra­di­tion. We are like a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant for shoes.”

“We some­times see clients with shoes that are still in the most beau­ti­ful con­di­tion after 12 years.”

Loafers and lace­ups are drawn, hand-coloured, sewn and pol­ished at the Moreschi fac­tory.

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